At first sight, the fitness centre on Turfsingel street might seem like just another gym in Groningen. But make no mistake – this is not your regular health club.
More than a job
When I step into the lobby at Built 2 Last, I suddenly forget that I am in Groningen, almost 30 kilometres from the coast. The room is warm and inviting, a change from the harsh, bitter wind that whips past the front door. A large canvas promoting a sunny beach scales the aqua blue wall.
I shiver as I remove my jacket and adjust to the change of temperature. Build 2 Last owner Mizra Bouwland (37) instantly greets me. “First things first,” she starts. “Get comfortable, relax, you have only just arrived. Here, have a drink,” she says while flashing her perfectly white teeth in a charming smile.
Moving further down the corridor, I find scarce evidence of state-of-the art equipment, saunas or luxurious dressing rooms. Instead, I see bustling fitness studios and a team of trainers who are committed to producing some of Groningen’s strongest competitors. Their special touch? Getting to know each and every one of their members on a personal level.
“I like being here and I love coming to work. When I am not at the gym, I miss the people who are here,” Mizra tells me. Dressed head to toe in sporty loungewear, her blonde hair frames her tanned face. “This a big part of my life.”
Health as a lifestyle
Built 2 Last began its story in September 2017 after a former gym on the same site, named Construction, went bankrupt. “This is a completely new business, a fresh start. We have new members and new rules,” explains Mizra.
With so many gyms in the area, competition for new members has been a concern from the get-go. “We have only been open for a year and a half and we do not have the same expensive equipment and facilities that TrainMore or BasicFit have. So rather than investing more money, we invest ourselves in here.”
“The Built 2 Last name is a huge part of who we are” she says, sitting at a chrome finished table back in the lobby. She slouches back on her chair comfortably, sipping on a fruit tea. “In order to grow a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body, you have to build yourself up. But you also have to stick with it and you have to make it last. When it comes to health and fitness, there is no quick fix,” says Mizra.
She gently twirls the label attached to the teabag in her glass. “It is indeed a lifestyle.”
To my right stands a dinky clothing store, fully stocked with gym wear and sports equipment. A surfboard balances above the clothing rails next to a snowboard and a pair of skis.
Images of a surf shack somewhere on Australia’s east coast pop up in my head. “That is the vibe we are trying to create here,” nods Mizra.
A reception-bar hybrid takes up the back wall. The receptionist turned barista starts up the coffee machine and grinds some beans. The shrill of the coffee grinder momentarily drowns out the low drone of chatter. “I want people to feel chilled and relaxed in my gym,” says Mizra. “As if they were at home.”
Friendship over membership
But aside from the aesthetic, what is it that makes Built 2 Last different from the many other gyms in the area? Mizra thinks it´s the philosophy that revolves around creating a community. Her fitness centre focuses on individual members rather than being blinded by a corporate business model.
“Our members are different from regular gymgoers. They come to get away from the crowds that you might find during peak hours someplace else. They do not want to wait to use the machines and they are not interested in these huge industrial sized complexes,” Mizra describes her clientele.
The team at Built 2 Last know their members by name. They know their story and their fitness goals. Whenever a member celebrates a birthday, the gym celebrates too by surprising them with a birthday cake and by throwing a little party.
“This is a small gym and our members are not just a number. Everyone who comes here is sociable, they are nice to each other and they communicate well with each other. More importantly, they help each other out”.
Mizra stops mid-sentence to greet an elderly man who has just entered the lobby. He is about to leave after completing his workout. They chat and laugh together for a few minutes before he exits the building.
Built 2 Last specialises in small group training and incorporates exercises tailored to their members´ needs. No two classes are the same. The team of trainers here do not follow a predetermined workout plan and strive to make each class original.
Membership fees are all inclusive. Each member can avail of the personal trainers to help them meet their fitness goals with no extra cost. “We help our members in any way we can. If we are available, we will train them personally free of charge,” Mizra explains her methods.
Mizra and her partner, Bob Boekweit (50), who is a personal trainer at Built 2 Last, host year-round fitness competitions for their members. These challenges are held four times a year and participants begin training five to six weeks in advance.
Those brave enough to join must take on cardio based workouts combining high intensity interval training and weight training, all against the clock. Whoever completes the challenge within the shortest time, wins.
The training sessions and challenges are followed by coffee mornings, lunch dates and barbeques, depending on the season. These social events allow members to celebrate their fitness achievements and to build friendships. Members sometimes team up spontaneously to compete in other races.
Last summer, Built 2 Last won the ‘Burpee Mile’, a high intensity challenge that required participants to complete a mile of burpees.
This year, another team will be competing in the Strong Viking Challenge. They will grapple with a 7km, 13km, 19km or 42km obstacle course through the mud. This gruelling challenge, held in Nijmegen on 30 March, attracts competitors from all over the Netherlands. “Our Viking Team train together in our gym two times a week. They are well prepared for this event,” says Mizra.
We are family
Mizra and Bob have made many friends at their gym over the past 17 months. Unfortunately, a big chunk of their members are students who eventually move on after their studies. “There are a lot of students at Built 2 Last, but the problem is that many of them are leaving. They don’t want to go, but their qualifications take them elsewhere outside of Groningen. This makes me sad because we are not saying goodbye to a member. We are saying goodbye to a friend,” explains Mizra.
The two owners have invested a lot of time and energy into keeping their gym alive. They are hopeful that the inclusive environment that they have created will attract more members and lead to financial stability.
“We value all our customers and we are thrilled when our members decide to settle in Groningen,” finishes Mizra. “These people are so inspiring and bring so much energy and positivity to this place. This is not just a gym. This is a family.”